From “Hero Robot” to Robot Heroes: A History Of Robot Toys

Robot toys have captured the imaginations of children and adults for generations, evolving from simple wind-up figures to sophisticated mecha warriors over the years. Join us on a journey through time as we explore the fascinating history of robot toys, from their humble beginnings to their modern incarnations. The Early Days: Wind-Up Wonders Before there […]

Robot toys have captured the imaginations of children and adults for generations, evolving from simple wind-up figures to sophisticated mecha warriors over the years. Join us on a journey through time as we explore the fascinating history of robot toys, from their humble beginnings to their modern incarnations.

The Early Days: Wind-Up Wonders

Before there were robots, there were automatons. These purely mechanical toys could move when prompted or set to do so, repeating the same motion over and over again. While automaton design could get extremely complicated and complex, they would soon be replaced by the advent of the robot.

With playwright Karel Capek coining the term “robot” in 1921, the earliest robot toys soon followed. These were typically made of lithographed tin or plastic – new material innovations that made them seem cool and futuristic compared to wooden or metal automatons. Innovations in plastic also made plastic robot toys cheap, durable, and easy to mass produce, which gave them an edge over heavy, costly automatons.

Year of Make: 1960s
Maker: Alps Shoji
Materials: Plastic, Tin
Country of Origin: Japan 

These charming toys, such as the Television Spaceman from the 1960s, delighted children with their mechanical movements and futuristic designs. These designs were often inspired by the era’s fascination with space exploration and technology, ranging from the Atomic Age of the 1940s to the rise of the Jetsons TV series. Robots represented the possibilities of what could happen in an optimistic post-World War II world before we even knew that events like the moon landing would eventually come to pass.

The Rise of Mecha: From Gundam to Transformers

In the 1970s and 1980s, the mecha genre exploded in popularity across multiple platforms, thanks to iconic franchises like Gundam and Transformers. These larger-than-life robots captivated audiences with their epic battles and complex storylines, inspiring a new generation of robot enthusiasts. They weren’t just passive servants or sidekicks anymore – they were heroes of their own!

Year of Make: 1980s
Maker: S.J.M. 
Material: Plastic 
Country of Origin: Taiwan 

Robot toys like this red-coloured Hero Robot began to bear more stylised features similar to that would define this era of mid-century retrofuturism. (Psst, if you visited the Barbican in London in 2017 these robots might look familiar! Yup, a series of our robot and outer space-themed toys were featured in the Barbican’s 2017 Into the Unknown exhibition on the history and development of science fiction, reflecting the significance of robot toys to the wider sci-fi genre as we know it!)

Year of Make: 1980s
Maker: R.M
Materials: Plastic, Tin 
Country of Origin: Japan 

They also began to be more imaginative, like this Dino-Bot that could transform to reveal a dinosaur’s head hidden within – a precursor to similar toys from the Transformers or Power Rangers series to come.

Robot Toys and What They Tell Us about Technological Progress

As technology continues to advance rapidly, our fascination with robot toys only grows stronger. From the simple wind-up figures of yesteryear to the sophisticated remote-controlled robots of today, the evolution of robot toys mirrors our ever-changing relationship with technology and our understanding of autonomy, artificial intelligence, and the role of technology in our lives.

With each new innovation, robot toys become more interactive, lifelike, and versatile. They not only entertain and delight but also serve as educational tools, teaching children about robotics, programming, and engineering concepts in a fun and engaging way. As we look to the future, the possibilities for robot toys are limitless, offering endless opportunities for creativity, exploration, and discovery.

At the MINT Museum of Toys, we celebrate the legacy of robot toys, mecha and more with our unique collection of vintage robot toys, spanning our Outer space and Astro Boy collections and beyond. These toys capture the spirit of exploration and adventure, with the power to transport children and adults alike to distant worlds and alien landscapes full of uncharted possibilities.

Visitors interested in discovering how these beloved playthings have evolved over time are welcome to visit our children’s museum or sign up for an engaging museum tour in Singapore with our crew. Such experiences offer guests of all ages the chance to interact with vintage toys and memorabilia, fostering a deeper appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship of the past.

Join us on a journey through time and space as we explore the history of robot toys at the MINT Museum of Toys. Book your tickets today and embark on an unforgettable adventure!